Monday, February 28, 2005

Why is DSL cheap and T1 expensive?

Apparently my braincells had too little to do tonight and I got off onto the track of thinking: "If I pay $75 for my 1.5 mbps x 768 kbps DSL connection, why then is a T1 $400-600/mo?"

Well, once those neurons fired off, of course some other neurons fired back with the answer. And it's that answer I'm gonna share.

Why is DSL (and cable modem) so cheap? Simple - contention.
Contention - (n.) Conflict that arises when two or more requests are made concurrently for a resource that cannot be shared.
So what does that mean? Well, in the simplest terms, think of contention as the last spoonful of ice cream from a container. It can only be enjoyed by one person. Your DSL connection is the same way. Your (and my) little DSL pipe is connected into a big internet pipe at the phone company (usually a DS3 that's connected in turn to another larger pipe to the internet somewhere else).

Another way to visualize it is connecting multiple water hoses to the same spigot on your house. You can only run so many at a time before the water pressure drops substantially.

In the case of our DSL, that water pressure drop is the same effect as our internet connections slowing down. For the most part, cable modem users notice it first... that's an engineering challenge due to how cable is run to different neighborhoods.

What does all this mean? Well, the phone company (or your cable company) buys a nice big internet connection. As long as no one is using it, it's really fast. The problem comes in that we're not guaranteed any set speed (go read your contract, you're in for a rude awakening). So the phone or cable company can share that one really big pipe with was many people they want to. So if you have 10,000 people in an area all sharing the same connection and trying to hit websites, download music and check email at the same time things can slow down - sometimes dramatically. That's contention - we're all contending for a share of a limited resource. This is also called oversubscription. It's the same concept that leads to "all circuits are busy now, please try your call again later" when making phone calls. The company has a set number of phone lines and internet speed to share. If more people try to use it than they can accommodate, some people get shut out or slowed down.

Now, since the phone companies own most of the really fast internet connections - or at least the wires or fiber by which they are connected around the US - people with DSL don't see this as often as people on cable modems (since the cable companies have to buy internet connections from some telephone company somewhere).

How is that different from a T1? With a T1, instead of sharing that really big pipe with thousands of other people, you have your own private connection into the backbone of the internet. The T1 carrier (if they're a tier 1 carrier) is usually going to guarantee that you will always have 99.9% or higher of your speed available to you. This means you're not fighting with all the other people in the neighborhood to get to the internet. (Now once your traffic hits the internet all bets are off b/c you can't control how your traffic gets to or from the website or other computer you want to talk to.)

And because you're not sharing the connection with so many other people, your T1 skips some of the equipment that would normally sit inbetween you and the phone company if you were on DSL. That makes a T1 feel "snappier".

What does that all boil down to? For residential users, DSL or cable modem is probably more then adequate for most people. For business users, you have to determine how much your internet connection is worth to the productivity of your business. If you can live without it, DSL or cable modem will probably suffice. But if you rely on email or the internet for making profit, closing deals or supporting customers, then a T1 is in order for you. The extra monthly expense is just a cost of ensuring you'll always be able to do business efficiently and reliably.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

When good and bad legislation meet, people lose!

David Deans on Texas House Bill 789

Will the Texas legislature knowingly pass a bill that may harm their constituents' ongoing participation in the Global Networked Economy, and negatively impact the future competitiveness of every business within the state?

That's the puzzling conclusion regarding the cause and effect of Texas house bill HB789 if passed. The following is an assessment of each of the main arguments and the associated counterpoints:

Why would any government entity want to invest in telecommunications infrastructure?

There is a clear precedent that government has always exercised the right to invest public money in infrastructure projects for "the public good". For centuries, governments have invested in building waterways, railways, highways and most recently airport facilities. Supporting national, regional and local investments in telecommunications infrastructure is merely an evolution of previously rationalized economic public policy. Telecom infrastructure is the enabling commercial transportation media of the Global Networked Economy.

Can telecommunications infrastructure become a part of existing Municipal Public Works?

Again, there is a precedent for municipal governments to deliver services that are in the public interest. This extends beyond transportation infrastructure to utilities such as water, electricity, trash removal and other essential civic services. Access to competitive telecommunications infrastructure is essential for all Texas communities to prosper, and it is therefore a logical extension of the provision of public works facilities. Access to broadband is becoming essential.

Should local governments provide similar services that compete with private business?

Once again, there is a similar precedent for publicly funded municipal bus and light rail services to be in direct competition with private taxi, limousine and shuttle services. Meaning, competitive coexistence is proven to create consumer choice -- given the availability of various options with associated value propositions, we know that discerning consumers will choose different services to meet their own individual needs. Texans are entitled to choose a public or private telecom provider. Besides, when compared to other forward-looking states, if HB789 is passed then Texans will become relegated to "second-class U.S. citizens" that essentially have fewer options than residents in other states. Granted, this is not the intent of HB789, but the unintended consequence.

Is it unfair when government provides no-fee Internet access, while carriers charge a fee?

Non-profit municipal telecom services that are provided without charge are not really "free" to its users – clearly, this is not a case of semantics. All users of telecommunications services are subject to paying approximately twenty percent of their existing service bill in the form of various federal, state and local government taxes (and associated subsidies). Municipal governments are now finally applying that revenue windfall to directly benefit those people who pay those taxes, by providing a tangible public service. Moreover, it’s already recognized that the American public collectively own the available radio spectrum, and so municipal wireless services simply ensure that this community asset is being used in the public interest. This isn’t a gift; it’s an inherent right.

Is it unfair that all taxpayers must subsidize municipal telecom services, when most people who don’t own a computer may never use the service?

Since the people who will use the municipal telecom service will likely be the same people who use the most commercial (fee-based) telecommunications services, they therefore already pay their "fair share" of the tax burden. Consider this situation to be similar to gasoline taxes – people that use the roads and highways the most ultimately are the ones who pay the most for the ongoing construction and maintenance of those very same resources. Again, the precedent is clear, apportioned taxes have often been applied in this very same manner.

If bill HB789 were passed, would it adversely affect the progress of the wireless sector in Texas?

Outlawing government’s involvement in the provision of broadband telecom services will set a negative precedent that has vast implications – it could undo past positive events. As an example, the State of Texas was nationally recognized as a forward-looking state when it approved the budget for DPS to install and maintain no-fee Wi-Fi services at state highway rest stops (other states are following Texas’ lead). Furthermore, the nationally acclaimed Austin Wireless City Project, an organization that provides free broadband Wi-Fi network installation and maintenance for local business venues across the Texas capital, is a model of American grass-roots entrepreneurial ingenuity at its very best (other cities are following Austin’s lead). By contrast, the passage of HB789 is regressive policy that not only undercuts past progress, but also potentially holds back further economic prosperity. The bill would prohibit the public-private partnership in Granbury, Texas – the nation’s first multiple-use citywide wireless broadband network. In Granbury, the city has contracted Frontier Broadband to deploy a network for public safety AND public access, a first in the United States. In Corpus Christi, a similar citywide network has been deployed for a variety of municipal applications including automated gas meter reading, public safety and in the near future, public access.

Isn’t it an exaggeration to say that HB789 will ultimately harm the Texas economy?

Telecom infrastructure is an enabling foundation for the ongoing growth of both traditional and electronic commerce. Texas needs to deploy as much broadband service offerings as possible, in order to effectively compete with other states that are already trying to attract their unfair share of telecom-enabled commerce. This is a key point -- don’t underestimate the significance -- Texas communities are in a race to build out their telecom infrastructure to match (and hopefully exceed) that of other growing markets. In comparison, HB789 is equivalent to suggesting that the Texas legislature would gladly pass a bill that will hold back the advancement of Texas state highways, or Texas community airports. In summary, bad economic policy is proven to negatively impact investment, the creation of jobs and ultimately people’s overall quality of life – put simply, handicapping Texas municipal broadband infrastructure investment options will harm all Texans.

Compared to other forms of public infrastructure, is wireless really a good investment?

All publicly funded investments should be subject to due diligence, as part of an ROI assessment. However, if the Texas legislature continues to support public funding for the construction and maintenance of other essential forms of infrastructure, then it is surely a clear case of faulty logic to outlaw the funding of essential public telecom infrastructure, without legal cause. Furthermore, wireless infrastructure investment is very prudent, with a compelling return on investment, when compared to other forms of legacy infrastructure. See Table 1 for a cost comparison.

Broadband Infrastructure Costs per Kilometer vs. Other Infrastructure Costs

Table 1

Road: $550,000
Water: $195,000
Electricity: $145,000
Gas: $85,000
Fiber Optics; $22,000 - $35,000
Coaxial Cable: $12,000 - $20,000
Copper Wires: $7,000 - $15,000
Wireless: $3,500 - $15,000

[Source: Upper CanadaNet as cited in the Canadian Broadband Taskforce Report, 2001 page 46]

Monday, February 21, 2005

If you live in Texas you need to get involved!

ACT NOW: Write State Legislators


Now is the time to tell our Texas state representatives that we want the anti-wireless provisions removed from HB 789. We especially need to send this message to the representatives on the House Committee for Regulated Industries. They are holding a public hearing on the the bill this Tuesday, which will determine whether the anti-wireless provisions remain.

Continue reading "ACT NOW: Write State Legislators" ...

Friday, February 18, 2005

Fraud artists con firm out of customers' data

WASHINGTON - One of the nation's biggest information services has begun warning more than 100,000 people across the country they may be targets of fraud, following disclosures the company inadvertently sold personal and financial records to fraud artists apparently involved in a massive identity theft scheme.

ChoicePoint Inc. electronically delivered thousands of reports containing names, addresses, Social Security numbers, financial information and other details to people in the Los Angeles area posing as officials in legitimate debt collection, insurance and check-cashing businesses. (after you've pulled a copy of your credit report, read more)

Budget motel chain offers free long distance, Wi-Fi

A small motel chain named Microtel is trying to change the fact you've never heard of them by offering both free long distance and Wi-Fi, reports the Associated Press. While it may take some time, free hotel/motel broadband is something many analysts believe is inevitable.

Free HBO and continental breakfasts aren't the amenities that have Microtel Inn & Suites guests chattering, sometimes for hours on end.

It's the free, unlimited long distance calls and wireless high-speed Internet service.

The economy-budget motel chain is now offering those services as well as free unlimited local calling in all its guest rooms at its 265 locations nationwide.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Would you let this guy near your kids? We'll now he has one of his own! Oh my. Proud Father, David Young.

Proud mother... Mrs. Heather Young. Please take pity on Mom and go buy her something nice from their Wal-Mart baby registry. 20 diapers every day and a half is quite expensive!

Welcome Miss Lillian Margaret Young to Planet Earth. 8:37, 5lb 10oz, 19.5 inches long. 23 days early. And apparently she takes after her daddy's side (balling/whiner). You can see more pictures online here.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

When it's time to go....

From Pa: "Carried {senile aunt who has no children} to Person {Memorial Hospital} then Duke {University Medical Center} last night about 10:30. She has had a massive heart attack. 4 major arteries {blocked} - stints nor balloons can work. BP was 205 over 90 before meds started to settle her down. She is stable under meds, without them she is pulling out the IV's. Pray that we are doing what is right. We have not let them put her on a machine. She has said many times she wants to go to {her husband who passed away a few months ago}. That is another good reason not to go for quad by-pass. Her mind is not right for a lifelong fight. I pray God will comfort her and show us if it is time to let her go."